This should be rather simple really. I don’t have a long history of indoctrination from the church or family members. In reality, I really lucked out to grow up in a home where discovering myself was put before any religious beliefs. That I was afforded the freedom to think and grow for myself and learn what best suited me.
Today’s post was inspired by David G. McAfee, a secular blogger who has taken on the task of posting a new series: Atheists Coming Out. I, frankly, think this is fantastic. There is strength in numbers and I just KNOW there are more atheists and freethinking types out there. Hell, I’ve already been witness to personal confessions from others when I did finally make it obvious what my beliefs on God(s) were. And there are many that are scared of the repercussions from making it known. Loss of friends, being shunned by family members, being otherwise ostracized by their peers. I hope that by adding my own story to the mix of many more that are about to make light, will help others find the peace and maybe even comfort in finally “coming out.”
As stated previously, I didn’t really suffer the effects of indoctrination. I was actually baptized once. I remember going to a Sunday School class and during this class, the adults in charge asked the group how many of us had been “saved” and to those of us who hadn’t if we wanted to be “saved.” Well…I sure didn’t want to die! Being “saved” sounded like the right thing to do, so I agreed. From what little I remember, there was talk about accepting the Lord Jesus Christ into my heart and being young and impressionable, I did. But, I didn’t FEEL any different. I didn’t feel like my life had changed. I didn’t feel anything really.
I went about my time being a “good child.”
There was another instance too where my friends and I decided we wanted to go to church. The bus would come by and pick us up and off we would go. I seem to remember my mom being a little reluctant about it initially but I do think this was more out of concern for my safety than anything.
So. Off we go one Sunday morning to church. I remember that we sat in the main congregation for one portion of our visit. Whatever the sermon was about, I remember distinctly the word “Hell.” And not so much that it was a bad place, but because in my house, it was a bad word! I also remember when the collection plate came around. I’m seeing this money on this plate and thinking to myself, “oh no, I don’t have anything for that…” and just passed it along to the next person. Overall, it was a very uncomfortable feeling for me and I abandoned the idea of going again.
I went to a Catholic church once with my friends as a teenager. I even went to another Baptist church with one boyfriend around age 15. And a different one around age 16 or so. And each time I’ve felt out of place. The churches themselves typically leave me feeling very uncomfortable. Even as an adult and going to weddings, I find myself struggling with feeling like I shouldn’t even be in one. So, I’ve since made a concerned effort to avoid them altogether.
Another point that should be noted from my upbringing is that I immersed myself in metaphysical things. I dabbled in New Age practices, read and practiced both Pagan and Wiccan rituals and even some basic “white magic” (that’s the good kind for those not in the know). I read up on astrology, tarot card reading, palm reading, handwriting analysis and a host of other divination practices.
Eventually though, as attractive as some of the mysticism in those things seemed at the time, there was still this cloud hanging around me that made me feel…”off kilter.” Like it still wasn’t right. I felt uncomfortable. And even at this time, I hadn’t rejected the Christian God. I actually accepted that there was more than one and that it was an individual’s personal choice on what brought them comfort and answers for life. After realizing that the metaphysical really didn’t do much for me either by way of any form of spirituality, I had finally realized that I was bothered by the rituals meant to express love and gratitude to a God or Gods that I couldn’t see and connect with. It felt empty and a waste of time. I concluded that I believed in a “higher power” and that was enough for me. No church. No rituals. No rites to recite.
I carried the “higher power” belief with me for a while, but mostly really just avoided talking about religion with people. I have to admit that when I was younger, “atheist” just sounded bad. And likewise, people made atheists out to sound like revolting people hell bent on creating chaos in the world. The Christians I was around tossed it in line with Satanism. *shrugs*
Many years go by. I don’t bother questioning my beliefs much. I do start noticing horrible things happening as a result of religious beliefs. And the seed of doubt is further planted. Still, I immerse myself in other things, mainly my involvement in running a nonprofit pit bull rescue organization. That was a full time job! It wasn’t until just recently, within the last few months that I’ve finally realized my true standpoint on religion and where my beliefs lie.
See, I’d gotten out of a long-term relationship in 2009/2010. I went from a two-income household to a single-income household. I struggled a LOT during that time. And eventually decided I wasn’t doing the dogs or the public any favors by keeping the rescue in operation. It was time to let it go. In November of 2011, I let go a four year “hobby” of mine, one that deeply filled the heart and soul with a fiery passion. Sometimes though, things like that have to happen when you realize the original goals are no longer being met and you’re threatening your own personal well-being at the same time.
A common question I was being asked when talking to new people was, “well, what do you do for fun?” And you know what? I had absorbed myself in the rescue so much that I didn’t have anything to offer! The realization of that left me a bit sad. It even made me want to apologize to my ex for neglecting him, which no doubt I did. So, not really knowing where to turn to meet new people, or even to delve into my own interests (what WERE they??), it dawned on me that one place many others meet new people is at church. Well…church was obviously out of the question for me. This in turn reminded me of BeliefNet.com. Many years ago, while I was still in high school and shortly after my family had gotten internet access, I remembered fooling around with the Belief O’Matic on their site. Basically, you answer general questions regarding your thoughts and beliefs surrounding God, and it gives you a list of the top religions you may most closely identify with based on similar values. I figured it was time to turn to the Belief O’Matic again, just to see.
I still remember that the first time around, I had Theravada Buddhism on the list as well as Secular Humanism. I read on the Buddhism at the time, thinking that was kinda cool, but I still really didn’t side well with it. This time around though, I checked out the link giving information on Secular Humanism. I’d never heard of Humanism before and the name sounded kinda…wishy washy maybe? But, what the hell right? It’d come up a second time so it really must be real and something I should at least look at. Basically, it’s the belief of being good without God, and perhaps a more “socially acceptable identity” than just simply referring to oneself as an Atheist.
With this new found information, I searched the trusty ol’ interwebs for information on a local organization and tada! We have the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry, founded in 1994 for Charleston area atheists, agnostics, humanists, freethinkers and other “godless” people. After joining their group and interacting with the other members, it finally felt *right* to me. Intelligent people with a drive to “be good” for the sake of being “good.” There’s so much beauty in that! We aren’t required to submit to a God or perform any other “rituals” in an effort to show appeasement to a God. We can be good because we’re human. That certainly feels to me a better path than being “scared” into goodness by threats of Hell, Satan, and God’s Wrath. And it actually makes me feel better about being a person.
I feel it’s also fair to go ahead and note that if you do believe, so be it, just so long as it doesn’t harm yourself or another person. I have no problem with your belief. What I do find problem with is allowing that belief to infringe on the happiness of other people. The persecution of others. But all that, I’ll save all that for another blog post. I think I’ve rambled plenty tonight 🙂